Maria Foerlev
Gallerist, Etage Projects
KOKOON Portraits # 6

When Maria Foerlev was a little girl, her father's aunt, Johnna – a talented textile artist and the wife of Arne Jacobsen – would play a game with Maria, asking her to pick out the thing in a room that spoke to her the most and then explain why. It was a basic exercise but it made her very aware of the way our surroundings affect us, and it helped shape her approach to design. Today, she runs the Copenhagen art and design gallery Etage Projects, and she still catches herself playing her childhood object game whenever she enters a new home.


What turning points have helped define who you are today?

Having children has of course changed my life. They have made me evaluate my values and given me a more critical view of the world. Coming back to Denmark after living in South Africa was also what you'd call a turning point. I had to find out what I wanted to do and found it difficult to choose between the fields of art, design and architecture. Luckily for me, many people who work in these areas today are the same; they can't decide either. So this crossover area, this grey area, ended up defining my focus at Etage Projects. 


How is work for you on a daily basis?

I try to find a balance between the e-mail world and the physical world. I've set out 'computer slots' during the day, usually two hours at a time, during which I deal with clients and practical stuff. Then comes real world time which is arranging stuff in the gallery, meetings and visiting studios. In a world consisting of nothing but information and transmittable images, I'm very aware of the log off button. 


What is important to you?

Uma and Storm, my daughter and son, are my numero uno. My friends are important too – I am very lucky to have a few great ones that go way back. They are like family. On a broader scale it is important for me to identify what is important and spend my time on just that. At the same time I try to keep an open mind towards the new. Everything is about balance.


When are your limits challenged?

I have a habit of regarding the day as being 34 hours, not 24. But once you've stretched it, the second time around is easier. 


Have you met a person who made you see things differently?

I try my best to meet one every day. 


What annoys you?

Pollution, maths, charging technical appliances, Facebook, iPads as babysitters, snobbery, prejudice, alarm clocks in the morning, uptightness, ignorance, animal cruelty and not really understanding how the universe works.


Do you cry easily?

I cry when I am moved by something, not so much when I am happy, sad or angry. I am a sentimental crier.


What does your gender mean to you?

I feel very privileged to have been born female in this day and age. I have tremendous respect for the women who paved the way on which I now walk so carefree. Most of all I feel human – I do not feel better, wiser, more intelligent, more creative, or more responsible than a man. I feel equal. I am certain I would feel the same about women had I been born male.




I try to bring my kids with me on work trips as much as possible – here we are at a fair in New York. Luckily they're interested in both art and design. I'm not against child labour so they get to help out as well! Una and Storm are used to spending time at museums. I've been dragging them along since they were little. They have an unpretentious approach to art and have possibly frightened a couple of museum attendants but I'm really happy that they don't view art as something old and fusty that needs to be observed ceremoniously from a distance.

I recharge my batteries at my summer cottage. No Internet, it's just about being close to my kids and nature. It's very exciting for me to collaborate with artists on designs for the gallery. It's such an exciting process and it's very satisfying to showcase, hopefully sell and continue to work on.

My work is project-oriented – installations are built and then taken down. Sometimes a show runs for a month, at other times for five days.One of the best things about my work is how we stage things. Here we had three tons of sand poured out onto the floor, challenging the general conception of the difference between art and design.